Aspiring artists should never downplay the importance of competitions, since they can lead to fame and lucrative recording contracts. There are quite a few well-known musicians out there today who got their start after winning a prestigious competition. And this weekend's guest soloist with the Utah Symphony, pianist Fazil Say, hopes the same will happen to him.

Say is apparently well on his way to becoming a pianist to be reckoned with. The young Turkish musician has already played with several of the leading orchestras in the world, and he's also released a couple of CDs that have done surprisingly well. And tonight, he'll be making his Utah Symphony debut in Abravanel Hall playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, a piece that has attained pop status for many people through its use in the movie "Elvira Madigan."In a phone interview from Fort Worth, where he was performing last week, Say noted that he loves to play Mozart. "It is part of my favorite repertoire," he said, "and the No. 21 is one of my favorite pieces, because it is one of the greatest concertos ever written."

And Say will add a bit of his own personality to the music, too. He'll be using cadenzas that he wrote himself. "Mozart didn't write his own cadenzas, so performers usually use the ones that Beethoven or Busoni wrote. But I use my own cadenzas. It makes it more interesting, I think."

Say came to prominence in 1994 after winning the Young Concert Artists International Auditions in Leipzig, Germany. And six months after that, he made his New York and Washington, D.C., recital debuts. "(This) competition was the start of my career in Europe and in the United States," Say explained. "Competitions give you an opportunity. If people are impressed with you, your career will take off. You get more bookings with important orchestras."

Kurt Masur was one of those people who apparently was impressed with the young pianist. Not long after his U.S. recital debut, Masur invited Say to perform with the New York Philharmonic. And as Say puts it, reflecting on his success as a concert artist, "the most difficult thing is the first step. After that, it gets easier."

For this concert, the Utah Symphony will be under the baton of guest conductor Alan Gilbert. Even though Say has not yet collaborated with Gilbert, he nevertheless has nothing but praise for the young American conductor. "I know him very well, but I have not yet worked with him," he said, "so I am looking forward to it. And I know his parents, too. Both play in the New York Philharmonic, and I got to know them when I played with the (orchestra).

"(Gilbert) is fantastic. I think he will become one of the great conductors of the future. He is still young, but he has a lot of talent."

The concert, which begins tonight at 8 p.m., will also feature one other work, Bruckner's majestic Symphony No. 6 in A major.

Tickets for the concert range in price from $14 to $33 and can be purchased through ArtTix at (801) 355-ARTS or 1-888-451-ARTS, or in person at the ArtTix outlets in Abravanel Hall or the Capitol Theatre. Tickets are also available online at www.arttix.org.

There will be a repeat performance of the concert tomorrow at 8 p.m.